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UN expert group alarmed by increasing violence toward people of African descent in Colombia

GENEVA (13 June 2016) – The United Nations Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent today expressed alarm over reports of violence toward people of African descent in Colombia, and called on the authorities to take concrete and urgent measures to protect the Afro-Colombian communities in the country.

The expert panel’s call comes at a time when several Afro-descendant leaders have been subjected to intimidation, including death threats as they continue their campaign in favour of their territorial rights.

“We are concerned that many Afro-Colombians community leaders have faced repeated death threats following their call for their ancestral land rights and to prevent the exploitation of their territories by outside mining interests, including multinational mining companies,” said human rights expert Ricardo A. Sunga III, who currently heads the Working Group.

“We ask for protection of Afro-Colombians, especially those engaged in active campaign for land restitution including in the Cauca Department. The communities’ territorial rights must also be respected,” Mr. Sunga stressed. “We urge the Colombian authorities to put an end to criminalisation and threats against human rights defenders and members of their families.”

While acknowledging ongoing efforts by the Government, the human rights expert emphasised that much more work is required to address the situation. “The Colombian Government must take effective action to guarantee the safety of their communities, undertake full and impartial investigations into the threats and bring all those responsible to justice,” Mr. Sunga underlined.

The expert reiterated the Working Group’s willingness to visit the country to gather information about the human rights situation of the Afro-Colombian community, recalling that an official invitation was requested in December 2014.

The Working Group’s appeal to the Colombian Government has also been endorsed by the the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns; and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere.

The Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was established on 25 April 2002 by the then Commission on Human Rights, following the World Conference against Racism held in Durban in 2001. It is composed of five independent experts:  Mr. Ricardo A. Sunga III (the Philippines) current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms. Mireille Fanon Mendes-France (France), Mr. Ahmed Reid (Jamaica); Mr. Sabelo Gumedze (South Africa); and Mr. Michal Balcerzak (Poland). Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Racism/WGAfricanDescent/Pages/WGEPADIndex.aspx

The Working Group is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

The International Decade of People of African Descent: http://www.un.org/en/events/africandescentdecade/

UN Human Rights, country page – Colombia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/LACRegion/Pages/COIndex.aspx

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Mr. Niraj Dawadi (+41 22 928 9151 / ndawadi@ohchr.org), Ms. Christina Saunders (+41 22 928 9197 / csaunders@ohchr.org) or write to africandescent@ohchr.org

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